The Gospel in Dickens
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January 03, 2021

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SPOILER ALERT
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I begin this comment with apologies to Cody Quanbeck, who in his guest review (https://dickensblog.typepad.com/dickensblog/2020/09/david-copperfield-an-iannuccian-dickens-movie-or-a-dickensian-iannucci-movie-.html) wanted to discuss the fact that Dora doesn't die, but instead releases David from their engagement. I understand why he wanted to talk about this, but I didn't want to reveal this major change to readers without warning, so I convinced him that we had to leave it out of his review. I left it out of mine as well. But here, I will give you his paragraph that I took out, and then give you my own opinion.

Cody originally wrote: "Then there’s Dora Spenlow (wonderful Morfydd Clark who also plays David’s mother) realizing her incompatibility with David and breaking their engagement before any marriage. A movie would not have had time, with all the other plots, to do full justice to their marriage from the book, and the literary resolution of having Dora die is rather ridiculously convenient. This adaptation decision probably makes David Copperfield a better movie. But I can’t quite reconcile myself to it. David and Dora’s marriage in the book is almost unprecedented in Dickens, and arguably in literature in general, in that it’s portrayed as a bad idea but neither of the people in it is vilified and both are committed to each other and to making the best of a bad situation. Without it, the movie’s story isn’t really David Copperfield."

I understand this point, and sympathize to a degree. But when I saw the scene for myself, I actually felt it was done in a way that fit the tone and style of the film very well and made me more reconciled to such a big change than I thought I would be. Dora asks David to write her out of their story, which feels organic to a film that's all about David the developing writer learning to create his own life and narrative. We still get Dora's moral development in recognizing her own shortcomings and her graciousness in wanting David to have a happy future, and the film accomplishes this without the marriage and death. This is another reason why I would not want this to be the only adaptation, because we do lose something without seeing these two characters go through great suffering and loss, but for this particular adaptation I felt that they hit on an adequate solution for how to separate them without making things too dark and gloomy.

I haven't had the pleasure of seeing the Patel adaptation yet, though I feel as if I've been looking forward to it for far too long. I did watch the old version with W.C.Fields as Micawber recently and was appalled that Traddles and Rosa had been completely ignored. I'm sorry to know that Traddles has been left out of this new version, also. He is the heart of the novel.

" Speaking of Aunt Betsey, Tilda Swinton was one performer who, to my mind, was not quite a perfect fit. Obviously she's an incredibly talented actress, but we didn't really see her grow and soften with the years. Her Aunt Betsey was who she was always going to be, pretty much from the start."

That's how I feel about Edna Mae Olivier's Betsey Trotwood in the 1935 movie (though I found her performance more fun than Tilda Swinton's.) She captured the character's personality at one point of the story better than any other actress but she didn't show any of her character development. Actually, that's kind of the 1935 movie in a nutshell. It captures the characters at specific points more vividly than any other adaptation but it doesn't show any of their arcs, except for David Copperfield, Dora and maybe Micawber. (I do really enjoy it in spite of that BTW.)

Now I think about it, I believe Traddles has gotten left out of most if not all adaptations. It's such a shame -- he's a wonderful character. (Those skeletons alone!)

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